Why Bother Researching, Pt. II

by Joshua Foust on 8/26/2008 · 67 comments

Michael Totten fell for it. After asserting Georgia didn’t start nuthin’ because those mean South Ossetians were busy attacking those sweet innocent Georgians while those scary mean Russians were already advancing on the Georgian capital, Totten lets us know where he’s getting his information:

Regional expert, German native, and former European Commission official Patrick Worms was recently hired by the Georgian government as a media advisor, and he explained to me exactly what happened when I met him in downtown Tbilisi. You should always be careful with the version of events told by someone on government payroll even when the government is friendly as democratic as Georgia’s. I was lucky, though, that another regional expert, author and academic Thomas Goltz, was present during Worms’ briefing to me and signed off on it as completely accurate aside from one tiny quibble.

Oh God. He forgot “adventurer” and egomaniac. Well, let’s do this.


“A key tool that the Soviet Union used to keep its empire together,” Worms said to me, “was pitting ethnic groups against one another. They did this extremely skillfully in the sense that they never generated ethnic wars within their own territory. But when the Soviet Union collapsed it became an essential Russian policy to weaken the states on its periphery by activating the ethnic fuses they planted.

That’s funny. I thought the USSR maintained cohesion through a Soviet identity in early childhood education, combined with the threat of prison camp or execution if you didn’t adopt it. I also thought most of the ethnic wars in the Caucasus were born of Josef Stalin’s miserable border-drawing (which was to prevent a single unified ethno-nationalist region from declaring independence), and only took off once the Soviet Union naturally fell and newly-independent countries sought simultaneously to maintain their territorial integrity while also becoming ethnically homogenous.

“They tried that in a number of countries. They tried it in the Baltic states, but the fuses were defused. Nothing much happened. They tried it in Ukraine. It has not happened yet, but it’s getting hotter. They tried it in Moldova. There it worked, and now we have Transnitria. They tried it in Armenia and Azerbaijan and it went beyond their wildest dreams and we ended up with a massive, massive war. And they tried it in two territories in Georgia, which I’ll talk about in a minute. They didn’t try it in Central Asia because basically all the presidents of the newly independent countries were the former heads of the communist parties and they said we’re still following your line, Kremlin, we haven’t changed very much.”

Is he talking about the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which began in 1988, some years before the USSR or even the Berlin Wall fell? Last I checked, the conflict over Upper Karabakh had been going off and on for a good eighty years, and, much like the former Yugoslavia, had only ceased hostilities due to the Soviet Union’s suzerainty. I’m curious how “they tried it” in Ukraine, since the Act of Independence had something like a 90% margin when it passed. And I don’t even know what they’re talking about with Central Asia—there weren’t any long-standing ethnic disputes on the order of anything in the Caucasus to exploit there. Really, the only place any existed in any kind of seething form was the Caucasus, and those existed well before the Soviet Union was invented.

I’m kind of surprised Goltz would sign off on a history this slipshod.

He’s right about the massive war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, though few outside the region know much about it. Armenians and Azeris very thoroughly transferred Azeris and Armenians “back” to their respective mother countries after the Soviet Union collapsed through pogroms, massacres, and ethnic-cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled savage communal warfare in terror. The Armenian military still occupies the ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region in southwestern Azerbaijan. It’s another so-called “frozen conflict” in the Caucasus region waiting to thaw. Moscow takes the Armenian side and could blow up Nagorno-Karabakh, and subsequently all of Azerbaijan, at any time. After hearing the strident Azeri point of view on the conflict for a week before I arrived in Georgia, I’d say that particular ethnic-nationalist fuse is about one millimeter in length.

Yes, no one outside the region know much about it, save Christian missionaries who spoke at length of Azeri atrocities, and Kids in the Hall skits about how Armenians and Azeria hate each other.

Anyway, he goes on at length quoting this paid representative of Georgia, who manages to portray Georgia as a reactionary victim of Russian power politics. That is certainly true, to an extent, as this excellent look at the complicated start of the war shows (Matthew Bryza, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Region, surprisingly strongly decries Georgian attacks on civilian targets—the action that formed Russia’s casus belli to invade the rest of Georgia, though to Bryza’s credit, he also lambasts the Russians or not ratcheting down tensions beforehand).

But then Totten admits he had no idea there were skirmishes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces in the days leading up to the conflict—something that was obvious in the regular news coming from the region, but was curiously lacking from most people’s discussions of the conflict.

Critically missing from this paid flack’s explanation of the war’s origins is Saakashvili’s brinksmanship. Under Shevardnadze (who also seems disappointed with Saakashvili’s recklessness), Georgia had never pompously strutted itself along the border of its far larger and more powerful northern neighbor, blithely assuming the U.S. and Europe would help it out in any conflict that arose. Saakashvili was, in a word, reckless in assuming he could make a lightning strike into South Ossetia and cut off the Roki tunnel right when everyone knew Russia had already massed on the border. Yes, Russia played a role in provoking the conflict, but Saakashvili was just stupid in playing into it.

Remarkably, Totten operates under the assumption that hearing a long presentation by a paid representative of Georgia, along with an escorted tour of a Georgian hospital with Georgian soldiers will tell him anything about the conflict. He doesn’t understand that Georgia’s spy drone which was shot down by a Russian plane was violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement in Abkhazia, nor does he seem to get that more South Ossetians died during the pre-war skirmish than Georgians. But what was this about?

“On the evening of the 7th, the Ossetians launch an all-out barrage focused on Georgian villages, not on Georgian positions. Remember, these Georgian villages inside South Ossetia – the Georgians have mostly evacuated those villages, and three of them are completely pulverized. That evening, the 7th, the president gets information that a large Russian column is on the move. Later that evening, somebody sees those vehicles emerging from the Roki tunnel [into Georgia from Russia]. Then a little bit later, somebody else sees them. That’s three confirmations. It was time to act.

That does not match with what other Georgian officials are saying about the conflict.

Around 2 p.m. that day, Ossetian artillery fire resumed, targeting Georgian positions in the village of Avnevi in South Ossetia. The barrage continued for several hours. Two Georgian peacekeepers were killed, the first deaths among Georgians in South Ossetia since the 1990s, according to Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, who spoke in a telephone briefing Aug. 14…

But by evening, Kezerashvili said, the Georgian side had had enough.

“At 6, I gave the order to prepare everything, to go out from the bases,” he said in an interview Aug. 14 at a Georgian position along the Tbilisi-Gori highway. Kezerashvili described the movement of armor, which included tanks, 122mm howitzers and 203mm self-propelled artillery, as a show of force designed to deter the Ossetians from continuing to barrage the Georgian troops’ positions inside South Ossetia.

Western officials in and around South Ossetia also recorded the troop and armor movement, according to a Western diplomat who described in detail on-the-ground reports by monitors from the OSCE. The monitors recorded the movement of BM-21s in the late afternoon…

At 7 p.m., with troops on the march, Saakashvili went on national television and declared a unilateral cease-fire. “We offer all of you partnership and friendship,” he said to the South Ossetians. “We are ready for any sort of agreement in the interest of peace.”

About 9 p.m., the Ossetians complained to Western monitors about the military traffic, according to a diplomat in Tbilisi.

Totten is being fed disinformation. And he doesn’t know enough to say so, since by his own admission (of not even knowing the context of this war, to say nothing of the others) he went into the country—just like his colleague Brietbart in Baku—knowing absolutely nothing about the place beforehand. He does not understand enough about the hatred in the area that exists on both sides to parse through the endless dissembling (Goltz is an amazing writer, but he is also unabashedly anti-Russian). Nor does he seem to understand the right before president Saakashvili invaded the territory, he called for a unilateral cease-fire in an attempt to roll through Tskhinvali unopposed (Russian-sponsored teenagers reportedly hurled molotov cocktails at Georgian tanks).

For example, the Georgians were still incredibly brutal to the South Ossetians, which makes the complaints about Russian brutality ring a tiny bit hollow. Totten doesn’t get at any of this, because he didn’t do a single jot of homework before heading out to these places.

Which is a real shame. But it’s yet another way in which the “power of blogs” continues to utterly fail us.

Update:Well, Totten has demanded an apology for “lying about him in public.” And told me to get off his blog. I’m happy to oblige, but Totten doesn’t get off that easily. I haven’t misrepresented a thing he’s said, since it is painfully obvious that not only was he presenting an incredibly biased version of events, but that he did not know a thing about the conflict before he arrived. To quote his own entry:

“Can I stop you for a second?” I said. I was still under the impression that the war began on August 7 and that Georgian President Saakashvili started it when he sent troops into South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali. What was all this about the Ossetian violence on August 6 and before?

He raised his hand as if to say stop.

“That was the formal start of the war,” he said. “Because of the peace agreement they had, nobody was allowed to have guns bigger than 80mm. Okay, so that’s the formal start of the war. It wasn’t the attack on Tskhinvali. Now stop me.”

“Okay,” I said. “All the reports I’ve read say Saakashvili started the war.”

“I’m not yet on the 7th,” he said. “I’m on the 6th.”

“Okay,” I said. He had given this explanation to reporters before, and he knew exactly what I was thinking.

“Saakashvili is accused of starting this war on the 7th,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “But that sounds like complete bs to me if what you say is true.”

Thomas Goltz nodded.

In other words, he wasn’t reading any actual news—in the New York Times, no less!—about the roiling skirmishes that were reported at least as far back as August 3rd and had taken place for at least a few weeks.

Which, again, is why I feel comfortable in pointing out the man did not understand the conflict he was writing about—now, heaven help us, in the Wall Street Journal, which happily reprints his belief (relayed by Georgian peasant women) that the only thing standing between Tblisi and the Russian tanks were the brave speeches of President Bush and John McCain.

It’s a damned shame—I used to think he was a really nice guy (nice guys don’t sputter in a paroxysm of pure rage when their writing is criticized)—but as Nathan pointed out in the comments, this is sadly common now to the blogosphere. What a loss.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 50 comments }

Nika August 26, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Why do not you check out this website. It shows that everything Totten said is TRUE!

http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6625&Itemid=65

Nika August 26, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Current State of Russia

Current Russia-Georgia conflict seems to put an end to a common myth about superiority of Russian military power. All military experts agree that invasion of Georgia clearly demonstrated the poor condition of the Russian army; absence of good communication and night vision gear, rusty tanks and armored carriers, old airplanes with poor precision of hitting military targets, dreadful intelligence, and the list goes on and on… But it seems to me that no one looked at the conditions of the Russian soldiers. Soldiers who once were shaking and threatening half of the world are now reduced to common thieves, robbers, looters, murderers and maradiors. They have arrested and beaten 60, 70, 80 year old man and women and killed scores of the innocent civilians with the mandate of ethnic cleansing. There is enough material on youtube to prove my point (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGfCkPU1-TA, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bSZmqCeiWU, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfP3X9PGg1g, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFr9iKNy-IY, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB_f_Ew1wfY). These so-called soldiers were stealing anything they could put their hands on. It really pleased me to see how the Russian “soldiers” were loading their tanks and armored vehicles with used Georgian soldiers’ underwear, blankets, shoes, washing pans, silverware, glassware, and even toilets. Russians even put on Georgian soldiers’ uniforms claiming that “it was better than their own”. I do not think you can have army any more discouraged and demoralized than that! However, I think the problem is even bigger; these so-called solders were destroying everything they could not take with them. They burned Georgian forests, croplands, bulldozed down houses, put land mines and explosives (so-called afghan candy) targeting youngsters and kids. Only barbarians with the extreme anger can do things like this. These facts clearly show not only the state of Russian army, but the vision and the spirit of most common Russian citizens brainwashed by the Kremlin propaganda. One Russian “soldier” looting Georgian army base is saying “look, look they leave so much better than we do! They have everything and we leave like bums!” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bSZmqCeiWU) This sums up the concern and the anger of most Russians. They hate seeing world leaving democratic and prosperous life, while “they leave like bums”. But instead of blaming themselves and their government, what do they do? They blame the rest of the world. Of course, there are geopolitical reasons and the energy security (oil and natural gas) involved in the Russian invasion of Georgia, but one cannot dismiss the anger factor. That immense, colossal anger seeing Georgia, one of the neighbor’s who used to leave in darkness and misery like Russians and all former soviet republics, succeeding in building democratic, prosperous country. Oh, that exasperation of seeing happy people who want to leave peaceful and prosperous life. My only hope is that someday Russians will wake up and realize that they too have a chance to leave like humans. However, with the current Kremlin propaganda and the large mass of uneducated people, this hope seems too remote…

Solomon2 August 26, 2008 at 3:28 pm

The larger point is that Russia has fallen back into its bad old habits of promoting ethnic division on its periphery to facilitate domination and expansion. It’s the kind of colonization Great Russians like, though they may weakly object to it: “I’m all in favor of Russian domination, but not by such methods!” is a typical line.

The West had hoped Russia had changed its spots, or at least become less effective. IMO, the destabilization of Georgia was probably planned while Shevardnadze was still ex-FM of the Soviet Union as a potential means to discredit him, if required. Plans were put in effect soon after the S.U. broke up, if only to save the jobs of the bureaucrats involved. Later on as Russia grew stronger and Russian nationalism revived, additional plans were made and measures were taken in preparation for this month’s conquest.

The actual invasion was planned in advance, Russian troops were specially mobilized and deployed in advance, and they departed from their bases according to a set plan. It seems they had orders to invade no matter what Georgia did.

leo August 26, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Forget anything else. Here is your average mysterious Russian sole in all its complexity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bSZmqCeiWU

PS. Borrowed from Nika’s post from above. Thank you, Nika.

(Yb’jut vse luchshee v sebe i isurodujut vse vokryg chto-bi bit’ spokoinimi chto ne tol’ko oni zjivyt v der’me. Rabi kotorih hozjain otpystil porezvit’sja.)

Cannoneer No. 4 August 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Foust, on the other hand, is ridiculously and obnoxiously misquoting me. Heck, he isn’t even misquoting me. He’s just making shit up. To hell with him, whoever he is. Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 26, 2008 1:07 PM

Yappy little underdogs who piss on the carpet and hump legs don’t get quite the bump cute ones do.

Not plane nor bird nor even frog.

Joshua Foust August 26, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Cannoneer, I’m not sure which one you’re calling a yappy little underdog, and which one is cute, but whatever. Totten obviously only read that excerpt or he wouldn’t have called this bullshit. By his own admission he didn’t know there were skirmishes in South Ossetia for at least a week beforehand, nor did he seem to get that there were literally years of conflicts and cease-fire violations BY BOTH SIDES before the August 7 incursion. Similarly, he doesn’t seem to feel any need to question Georgian actions within Tskhinvali, which even the U.S. envoy to the region did.

And annoyingly, he pretends no one has ever heard of Azerbaijan or the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, when I linked to two examples of how it had widespread coverage in multiple forms of media (hell, I could have even mentioned an Eddie Izzard show where Azerbaijan was a running gag throughout).

None of this really indicates I misquoted him, since those were his stated assumptions. And he was in the same group as Brietbart.

I’m no apologist for Russia, as my other entries on this blog can attest. But repeating Georgian propaganda like this does no one any favors.

S. August 26, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Georgia, Russia, and Ossetia are all ruled by thugs. This Totten guy wrote a gigantic load of text which said pretty much nothing. I, like everyone else, want to read real info that is put together in an interesting way. And this article does just that. Paid absolutely nothing, probably a small readership, and yet does the job better than people paid tens of thousands of dollars a year to do the same. Not everything written is exactly something everyone would agree with, but a good part of it is definitely documented and easily verifiable. Check it out here.

http://warofillusions.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/for-the-jewels-of-the-east/

Silenus August 26, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Josh Foust: since by his own admission he went into the country—just like his colleague Brietbart in Baku—knowing absolutely nothing about the place beforehand.

What is this bullshit? I never said anything of the sort. Why should I take this Foust character seriously if he’s going to insult me by pretending I insulted myself?

Unlike Andrew Breitbart, I write about foreign policy and geopolitics for a living, and I do it from inside the places I write about. I do not mean to insult Breitbart. He and I just have different jobs. Foust, on the other hand, is ridiculously and obnoxiously misquoting me. Heck, he isn’t even misquoting me. He’s just making shit up. To hell with him, whoever he is.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 26, 2008 1:07 PM

This is Totten’s full response.

My recommendation would be for both of you to contact each other and do a full series of point/counterpoint pieces, instead of relying on biased readers to post fragmentary blog comments in a huge game of he-said/she-said. All of this ego-defending does nothing for those of us who want to know what really happened in Georgia.

Josh SN August 26, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Totten gets his information from a ” media advisor” for the “Georgian government” and you act surprised that his information is completely one-sided?

And I think the reactions of people like Shevardnadze would be different if, by some random turn of events, the Georgians had succeeded.

/I don’t know anyone who speaks Georian and South Ossetian and then could be convinced to go spend some time becoming personally familiar with the entire area/

vas August 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

There is another reason why all of this “Georgia attacked Tskhnivali in response to a Russian attack” talk is a complete nonsense. There was an emergency UN security council meeting at night Aug 8. And a Georgian envoy told about reasons for the outbreak of hostilities that took place. Well, he did not mention anything about Russian attack. Can you imagine it? His country is under massive attack, Russian armored columns are streaming onto Georgian territory and yet Georgian envoy to UN forgets to mention it but talks about some Ossetian provocations instead. Complete nonsense.

Nathan August 26, 2008 at 9:10 pm

I think part of what works for michael is that he writes from the viewpoint and with the voice of many of his readers. That is, he doesn’t know too much about his subjects in depth, and he often has a narrative before he starts his research. That said, I think he’s willing to take a more critical look at subjects if you engage him.

glasnost August 26, 2008 at 10:21 pm

At least to some extent I agree with you, Josh, but even I think you did a fairly poor job of getting your point across. You’d have been better off sticking to the facts: Mike’s experience is beside the point. What matters is the misrepresentation and uncritical acceptance of dubious exculpatory context

Joshua Foust August 26, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Silenius, I read Totten’s comments in full on his blog. He can talk about how he writes locally all he wants—what he wrote in that blog post was treating the situation there dishonestly, it looks like at the hands of biased sources.

JoshSN: I wouldn’t say surprised, exactly. I was kind of expecting it. Totten had been reading about and writing the Middle East for years before he went there in person to report on it. By his own admission, he knew little about the Caucasus before traveling there. It’s not a crime, but he’s not going in knowing everyone’s lines and grievances, and that makes untangling them really difficult amidst all the disinformation being passed around.

Nathan/Glastnost: I didn’t mean for this post to come across as a personal attack on Totten. Hell, if I didn’t like the guy I wouldn’t have recommended him to some of my reporter friends for interviews. But in this case he got caught out—badly, in my estimation—because he just didn’t know any better. It’s fair game to say I went a bit overboard in pointing that out, but I don’t think that’s an unfair point to raise. And I’ll freely admit by this point I’m sick of people who don’t know any better inserting themselves as instant experts on the region because they spent a few days in Tblisi. I’ve been studying this region for years, and I’d still say I have at best a sketchy grasp of what it’s about. Admitting that is important (and to be fair, Totten is not by any stretch the worst of these).

kao_hsien_chih August 26, 2008 at 10:49 pm

From what I’d heard from my acquaintances, Totten has a track record of stuff like this: while in Beirut, he limited himselve exclusively to the viewpoint of the most militantly pro-Western (and anti-“Other Arabs”) faction of them all, the Maronites, and presented a wildly distorted picture of what’s going on in THAT troubled corner of the world. That had some of my Lebanese (and other ME-connected) friends fuming.

Isn’t writing “from the viewpoint of…his readers” same as just perpetuating their existing prejusdices by cherry-picking “right” stories from the “locals”? That seems to be what he does best from what I’d seen of him.

kao_hsien_chih August 26, 2008 at 10:50 pm

I should add that the Maronites were the only folks in Lebanon Totten apparently hung around with in Beirut, from his own account…..

Nathan August 26, 2008 at 11:08 pm

josh I don’t think you come off too harsh — I do think you sometimes focus more on the messenger than the message, but your point here is fair. He’s too eagerly accepting what he’s being told. His piece reads like some kaplanian journey of self-reflection almost. Anyway, I think he overreacted to your criticism. A bit like the msm the blogosphere likes to crtiticize so much.

leo August 26, 2008 at 11:43 pm

“I should add that the Maronites were the only folks in Lebanon Totten apparently hung around with in Beirut, from his own account…”

I distinctly remember Michael Totten’s interview(s?) with Hezbollah as well.

fnord August 27, 2008 at 12:55 am

Hey, he got an all-expense trip to Tblisi as part of some info-war in order to write a historical revision of the conflict wherein the Russians and South Ossetians attacked in strength first. He sat down with a member from the propaganda ministerium and a paid “academic” and reported word for word the Georgian version that they want to send out into the blogosphere, mainly the new and shining lie that the russian tanks had emerged on S.O. territory *before* the georgians attacked. Something no European newspaper has mentioned, indeed any believable newspaper whatsoever. He is not even pretending here to be a reporter, but obviously is a mouthpiece, a part in a classical webcampaign to alter the history in the face of the fanatics. Its how you establish a lie, by having semi-respectable bloggers like Totten bury certain points in their texts and then others can refer to them as truths in their more extreme writings. Ive seen it with the anti-muslims a hundred times, its a method written in the infowar manual.

And he knows it, as you can see in his “response”:

“Unlike Andrew Breitbart, I write about foreign policy and geopolitics for a living, and I do it from inside the places I write about. ”

Uh yeah, meaning that part of your price for making up packages like this based on two allied sources is that you demand an allexpense paid trip to the country you are going to. “Blogger seeks expenseaccount in foreign countries, will do historical revisionism. Does not rock the boat.”

“I do not mean to insult Breitbart. He and I just have different jobs. Foust, on the other hand, is ridiculously and obnoxiously misquoting me. Heck, he isn’t even misquoting me. He’s just making shit up. To hell with him, whoever he is.”

Meaning: “I am getting paid for writing this shit, you know, in real money, so fuck you if you think I am interested in discussing the issue. That was not on the mission-description the Georgians handed me. Go to hell, dweeb, you dont understand what its like to be a star.” The one sure sign on the internet that somebody is intelectually dishonest is when they piss and whine like this, trying to use their egos and lofty positions as a stand-in for actual arguments. He doesnt show where Foust misquotes, or in any context why we should believe him. Its just pure kindergarden: “Im famous and youre not. Who ya think the normal folks and the syndicates will believe?”

Joshua Foust August 27, 2008 at 1:18 am

Well, Totten has demanded an apology for “lying about him in public.” And told me to get off his blog. Happy to oblige, Totten, but you don’t get off that easily. I haven’t misrepresented a thing he’s said, since it is painfully obvious that not only was he presenting an incredibly biased version of events, but that he did not know a thing about the conflict before he arrived. To quote his own entry:

“Can I stop you for a second?” I said. I was still under the impression that the war began on August 7 and that Georgian President Saakashvili started it when he sent troops into South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali. What was all this about the Ossetian violence on August 6 and before?

He raised his hand as if to say stop.

“That was the formal start of the war,” he said. “Because of the peace agreement they had, nobody was allowed to have guns bigger than 80mm. Okay, so that’s the formal start of the war. It wasn’t the attack on Tskhinvali. Now stop me.”

“Okay,” I said. “All the reports I’ve read say Saakashvili started the war.”

“I’m not yet on the 7th,” he said. “I’m on the 6th.”

“Okay,” I said. He had given this explanation to reporters before, and he knew exactly what I was thinking.

“Saakashvili is accused of starting this war on the 7th,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “But that sounds like complete bs to me if what you say is true.”

Thomas Goltz nodded.

In other words, he wasn’t reading any actual news—in the New York Times, no less!—about the roiling skirmishes that were reported at least as far back as August 3rd and had taken place for at least a few weeks.

Which, again, is why I feel comfortable in pointing out the man did not understand the conflict he was writing about—now, heaven help us, in the Wall Street Journal, which happily reprints his belief (relayed by Georgian peasant women) that the only thing standing between Tblisi and the Russian tanks were the brave speeches of President Bush and John McCain.

I feel safer now in calling him a fool—an angry fool.

AMac August 27, 2008 at 9:13 am

I submitted the following comment on Michael Totten’s blog, where it appears to be held in moderation. Adding that to the chill in Foust/Totten relations, it seems reasonable to cross-post it here.

–AMac

Josh Foust at August 26, 2008 8:18 PM —

I claim that you have made a severe misrepresentation in your comment [at Totten’s blog]. You wrote —

Neither side is innocent—both were actually pretty appalling in what they did to each other (for example, satellite imagery [hyperlink omitted to conform to Registan.net comment policy] suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential), and to portray Georgia as Russia’s victim, which Michael does here, is reckless.

Your key assertion appears to be false.

The link you provide goes to a U.N. satellite image composited from photos taken on 19 August; hi-res details are archived at the UNOSAT site. These images pinpoint the thousand-plus damaged and destroyed buildings in the city of Tskhinvali and north ~10 km along the P-2 highway.

The gravest damage is in the villages (south to north) of Kverneti, Kvemo Achabeti, Zemo Achabeti, Kurta, Kekhvi, and Kemerti.

The International Crisis Group’s Europe Report #183, Georgia’s South Ossetia conflict: Make haste slowly, issued 7 June 2007, includes maps of South Ossetia in Appendicies C and D (pdf pages 32 and 33). The villages from the northern suburbs of Tskhinvali to Kekhvi and Kemerti are unambiguously identified as “Georgian-controlled areas,” i.e. as ethnic Georgian villages.

Thus, the buildings that are recorded as being damaged or destroyed as of 19 August (ten days after the Russians and Ossetians repulsed the Georgian advance) appear to be the homes of ethnic Georgians, for the most part. Also note that the six high-res “Village Damage Atlases” include circles that identify buildings that were on fire when the images were taken, i.e. recently torched.

Mr. Foust, your quote was “satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential”. However, it appears to be overwhelmingly likely that this destruction is mostly or entirely the result of Ossetian ethnic cleansing efforts that took place after 9 August. Burning buildings are evidence that this activity was ongoing as of 19 August.

On Aug. 17, The Times (UK) reported:

there were numerous witness accounts pointing to a paramilitary campaign of revenge attacks against Georgians in South Ossetia.

“A group of heavily armed and wild-looking South Ossetian irregulars came into the village and started terrorising people and looting,” said Niko Markuzash-vili, 52, who had fled the Georgian hamlet of Kheltubani and walked to Gori.

“They were burning houses and stealing cars, just grabbing anything they wanted. I saw them stop a man in his car. They demanded the keys but he refused to hand them over so they shot him point blank with a machinegun and killed him on the spot. They took some of the young men prisoner.”

As panicked civilians fled the area, most on foot and carrying only the clothes they were wearing, people told of young girls being abducted and men being detained. Houses were systematically looted and torched. Entire villages were razed.

Posts on your blog show that you are well aware of the many other credible reports of ethnic cleansing in (formerly) Georgian areas of South Ossetia.

Under other circumstances, I might not make such a point of this. However, at your blog and at the Columbia Review of Journalism, you have repeatedly slammed bloggers, including Michael Totten, for offering uninformed and erroneous commentary. You’ve emphasized that journalists and policymakers should discount Johnny-come-latelys, and instead rely on area experts such as yourself.

In light of the evidence presented here, I hope you feel obliged to justify, modify or retract your claim that “satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential”.

I will add that I am not an area expert, just a person who uses newspapers, books, and blogs to follow world events. I have benefited from reading Totten, Foust, and others. As an astute commenter remarked above [in the thread following Totten’s post], “The Truth About Russia in Georgia” is a compact, reasoned, and vetted (by Thomas Goltz) version of the Georgian narrative of events, and very useful as such.

One of Mr. Foust’s errors may be in assuming that Mr. Totten’s readers lack the wit to read further, comparing and contrasting as we go. Perhaps we deserve more consideration than that.

AMac August 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

Josh Foust at August 26, 2008 8:18 PM “[at Totten’s “The Truth about Russia in Georgia]–

I claim that you have made a severe misrepresentation in your comment. You wrote —

bq. Neither side is innocent—both were actually pretty appalling in what they did to each other (for example, satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential), and to portray Georgia as Russia’s victim, which Michael does here, is reckless.

Your [Foust’s] key assertion (bolding added) appears to be false.

The link you provide goes to a U.N. satellite image composited from photos taken on 19 August; hi-res details are archived at “the UNOSAT site.”:http://unosat.web.cern.ch/unosat/ These images pinpoint the thousand-plus damaged and destroyed buildings in the city of Tskhinvali and north ~10 km along the P-2 highway.

[snip]

My entire comment was too lengthy and too linky to pass either Michael Totten’s or Josh Foust’s spam filter. I’ve added a version as Comment #4 to Armed Liberal’s post What Really Happened in Ossetia? at the blog “Winds of Change.”

Joshua Foust August 27, 2008 at 11:47 am

AMac, notice I said “Suggests.” You offer the theory that Ossetians destroyed the residential buildings in Tskhinvali simply they were in the northern part of the city and a news story reported “ethnic cleansing” of Georgians.

Yet that remains little more than speculation. The cluster of houses destroyed in Tamarasheni appear to be a reaction to the Georgian advance into the city, which by South Ossetian accounts was just as brutal as the Russians supposedly were.

So I stand by my statement: Georgia does not have the right to proclaim itself an innocent, well-meaning victim of Russia’s power politics. It tried to play the game with Russia and it lost. Bad. Printing weak justifications to make them seem more peace-like or innocent does nothing to help the rest of us figure out what an appropriate response is (which, as U.S. envoy Michael Bryza seems to have realized, is to strongly condemn BOTH parties to the conflict for behaving irresponsibly).

AMac August 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Mr. Foust,

I am disappointed by your response.

To-the-point Facts first. Yes, you said “suggests”. But even this weasel word is insupportable. In the context of South Ossetians’ claims of bulldozing Georgian homes and ethnically cleansing Georgian villages, evidence of continuing destruction of Georgian villages more than a week after the repulse of the Georgian army suggests, well, ethnic cleansing. If this action was ongoing on a large scale, one might expect to see large numbers of fires in buildings in ethnic-Georgian villages. See here:

Update 2: Active Fire Locations for Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia —

This map illustrates satellite-detected active fire locations of the towns north and east of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia during and after the armed conflict between Georgian and Russian military forces. These fire locations were detected by the MODIS Aqua and Terra satellites covering the time period from 7 to 24 August 2008.

So you stand by your statement. By offering a “theory” of ethnic cleansing (not in Tskhinvali–I said in the ethnic Georgian villages north of Tskhinvali) I am engaging in “little more than speculation.” Along with UNOSAT, in this case, I suppose.

Second, not-to-the-point facts. I have not commented on the brutal Georgian advance into Tskhinvali or on Mr. Bryza’s statements. They aren’t relevant to your misattribution of the destruction of ethnic Georgian homes to the Georgian army long after they were expelled from the area, rather than to the obvious and admitted culprits.

Third, opinions. You offer many on the Georgian/Russian/Ossetian war, in your 11:47am response supra and elsewhere on your blog. As it happens, I agree with many of them, at least provisionally.

But that is neither here nor there. The first obligation is to properly represent the facts, and to offer corrections when one turns out to be mistaken.

Recalling the topic of this post, I would not think it necessary to make that point.

Cannoneer No. 4 August 27, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I’m not sure which one you’re calling a yappy little underdog, and which one is cute, but whatever.

Your uncertainty on that point perfectly illustrates your hubris and your overestimation of your own significance.

Michael J. Totten 4,539
Registan 27,846

JTapp August 27, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Your point about journalists not doing their homework is well-made. Note the NY Times editorial today that claims:

“Recognizing these enclaves (Abkhazia, S. Ossetia) could inspire a host of rebellions around and inside Russia: Transdniester from Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and the oil-rich province of Tatarstan from Russia. If Moscow has forgotten its horrifying war to suppress the Chechens, we have not.”

It’s like someone said: ‘Let’s just throw in Tatarstan for good measure!’

It would be hilarious BS if it wasn’t coming from the NY Times.

Joshua Foust August 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm

AMac, my remark was meant as a corrective to the narrative in Totten’s post about the innocent Georgians being rolled over and kicked by the nasty Russians/Ossetians. Reality is always vastly more complicated that partisans are willing to allow, and Totten’s sole reliance on partisans leads to an inaccurate view of what happened.

If pointing this out qualifies in your mind as ignoring some crucial aspect of the conflict, I cannot help that. Georgia has been very vocal in portraying itself as the victim here; it is vitally important to remember that South Ossetia was also the victim.

Cannoneer, if all you can fall back on is popularity stats, you’re a lost cause. It’s equivalent to him proclaiming his superiority because he’s paid to write about it. It has no bearing on his adherence to facts, nor does it bear on his grasp of the situation. Either he is right or he is not — his popularity doesn’t matter.

Jeffrey Renz August 27, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Goltz is a friend and former colleague. It is fair to say that he is not a fan of the Russians. It is also fair to say that he has been a severe critic of the Georgians. I speak of this, not from his writing, but from his personal and public comments on Georgia, some of which shocked and offended the Georgians in his audience.

What we all should realize is that no one, not even the U.S.A., can mount a military offensive the size of the Russian attack on 24 hours’ notice. You can’t top off your armor that fast nor get your combat loads.

Ryan Erickson August 27, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Jeffrey, you are suggesting that Russia was wrong to have a contingency plan in place, that it should have been totally unprepared for a Georgian attack on South Ossetia.

Of course Russia knew that an attack was likely, and the only responsible thing to do was to prepare for it. If Russia hadn’t been prepared, the war would probably have dragged on for several more days and resulted in the deaths of many more civilians.

South Ossetians, I am sure, are grateful that Russia responded as quickly and effectively as it did.

AMac August 27, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Mr. Foust,

I have made one specific, factual claim: you appear to have been in error when you asserted, “for example, satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential.”

I have provided links to evidence (maps in ICG Report #158’s Appendix, and the same UNOSAT imagery you cited).

I have offered a straightforward narrative (those homes in ethnic-Georgian villages that were destroyed more than a week after the rout of the Georgian army were not destroyed during that army’s earlier offensive).

The linked documents, widespread news reports of Ossetian ethnic cleansing in these villages, and the common-sense narrative all buttress my assertion. They all undermine yours.

Your specialist knowledge might lead you to challenge the veracity of the referenced maps, and the plausibility of eyewitness reports of cleansing, and the time sequence I outlined.

You have done none of these things. Instead, you’ve offered the naked sentence “I stand by my statement” as a rebuttal. You’ve shared opinions on related and unrelated matters. You’ve tried your hand at mind-reading.

You are of course welcome to your opinions and projections, especially on your own blog.

But you have not addressed the facts that contradict your belief on the matter at hand.

Joshua Foust August 27, 2008 at 7:30 pm

AMac, That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t, and have never, disputed South Ossetian activities against Georgian civilians. I have merely highlighted Georgia’s own role in not safeguarding the civilian population as it complains of Russia not doing the same. It is hypocritical. (And it’s ICG #159, by the way).

Your links haven’t said anything at all about the buildings Georgia destroyed in its artillery barrage, which were — still, according to that UNOSAT map — primarily residential. That South Ossetians also destroyed residential buildings is immaterial. This is about Georgia’s actions, not South Ossetia’s.

This isn’t a very tough concept to understand.

AMac August 27, 2008 at 9:33 pm

A point of clarification.

Your original statement was “for example, satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential”.

The link goes to a page at alertnet.org that contains the pdf “Satellite Damage Assessment for Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia,” and this descriptive text —

This map presents a satellite-based damage assessment for the city of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia following the armed conflict between Georgian and Russian military forces in August 2008. Damaged buildings have been identified with WorldView-1 and Formosat-2 satellite imagery acquired on 19 August 2008 at a spatial resolution of 50cm and 2m respectively. An estimated total of 438 buildings within the mapped extent of Tskhinvali have been classified either as destroyed or severely damaged. An important preliminary finding of this satellite damage analysis is the observed heavy concentration of building damages within clearly defined residential areas.

I had been unable to download from that site, and wrongly assumed that your link was to the current mapset at UNOSAT. It is not; that site has the master map “Overview of Village Damage Atlas: Kekhvi to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia.” It is made from the same 19 August satellite passes, but the map is dated 22 August. Panels 4-TSK (205 affected buildings), 5-TSK (99 affected buildings) and 6-TSK (135 affected buildings) cover the area of the map at your link. Note that the town of Tshkinvali is in panel 5-TSK; this is presumably the area that bore the brunt of the Georgian barrage of 7 August. (I don’t know this, but it seems you don’t, either.) Note also that the devastated village in Panel 4-TSK is Tamarasheni, about 4 km north of the town center. This village and those to its north in Panels 3, 2, and 1 (591 buildings affected) were all identified by the JPKF as ethnic Georgian villages under Georgian control as of 2007.

Your links haven’t said anything at all about the buildings Georgia destroyed in its artillery barrage, which were — still, according to that UNOSAT map — primarily residential. That South Ossetians also destroyed residential buildings is immaterial. This is about Georgia’s actions, not South Ossetia’s. (emphasis added)

No. This has been about your claim and the supporting link you supplied. In all likelihood *, many or most of the affected buildings in panels 6, 5, and 4 were destroyed by Ossetian ethnic cleansers. Their number also includes the buildings destroyed by the brutal Georgian artillery barrages on Tshkinvail proper on 7 August. To a much greater certainty *, the buildings in panels 3, 2, and 1 are in (formerly) ethnic-Georgian villages and most or all were destroyed by Ossetians after the Georgians were routed. I don’t know how far north of Tshkinvali the Georgians managed to advance (judging by your remarks in this thread, you don’t either).

This isn’t a very tough concept to understand: if you make assertions about Georgian brutality, do not support them with images of buildings that were, in all likelihood *, mostly ethnic-Georgian residences mostly destroyed by Ossetians.

Are Georgians all angels, or devils? Of course not. Are Ossetians? Of course not. Is the history tangled and the situation complex? Yes and yes, of course. These statements are immaterial to the point at hand, which is that claims and narratives supported by facts are preferable to those that are not.

– – – –

* Interested readers can follow links to UNOSAT and the maps in ICG Europe Report # 183 and draw their own conclusions as to “likelihood.”

Rusudan August 28, 2008 at 3:57 pm

IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT,IF NOT FOR RUSSIA THERE WOULD BE NO WAR IN GEORGIA.Isn’t it obvious?Or you just have to have Russian tanks attack your place to understand that ? If the other guy’s blog is biased so is yours Mr.Foust !!!

Ryan Erickson August 28, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Rusudan, if not for Russia, then then S. Ossetia would have been steam-rolled, a huge refugee crisis would have emerged, hundreds, if not thousands of more civilians would have been killed, and almost certainly Abkhazia would have suffered the same fate.

It takes two to fight a war, but one army can certainly commit atrocities on its own.

Tom Grey August 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm

I think Totten is a fantastic writer, and brave, not foolish nor a fool, and basically honest.
He could still be wrong.

But your refutation is weak on some facts:
The skirmishes of 6 Aug — when were 120 mm guns used?
Were civilian S. Ossetians evacuated? when? If before 7 Aug, this is strong evidence that there was plan to increase the provocations until there is a Georgia response that can justify the Russian invasion.

The WaPo article doesn’t mention either fact. Neither do you. These two facts are the most relevant for me for deciding about ‘trigger blame’, but your main point is very important — both sides are bad.

AMac August 29, 2008 at 10:11 am

A footnote to the back-and-forth between Josh Foust and me regarding his comment at Totten’s site (August 26, 2008 8:18 PM, or see my comment in this thread at 8/27/08, 9:13 am):

“… (for example, satellite imagery suggests the buildings Georgia destroyed in South Ossetia were primarily residential)”

Georgia: Satellite Images Show Destruction, Ethnic Attacks. Russia Should Investigate, Prosecute Crimes

(New York, August 29, 2008) – Recent satellite images released by the UN program UNOSAT confirm the widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages inside South Ossetia, Human Rights Watch said today. Detailed analysis of the damage depicted in five ethnic Georgian villages shows the destruction of these villages around the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, was caused by intentional burning and not armed combat.

“Human Rights Watch researchers personally witnessed Ossetian militias looting and burning down ethnic Georgian villages during their research in the area,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “These satellite images indicate just how widespread the torching of these villages has been in the last two weeks.”

Mr. Foust linked to a map from this UNOSAT dataset as evidence of Georgian destructiveness in South Ossetia.

Joshua Foust August 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm

AMac, this is your last warning. I’ve never once denied South Ossetian atrocities, nor have I wavered in condemning Russia’s advance as needless and neddlessly brutal.

The fact remains, this specific post — this one, right here, that we are commenting on — revolves around GEORGIA’s actions. That UNOSAT image also contains evidence of Georgian artillery concentrating its firing into residential areas of Tskhinvali. That South Ossetian actions took place, and even that they may have later eclipsed Georgian actions in terms of severity and occurence, is IMMATERIAL to the original point.

Which is that Georgia is not an innocent victim.

We’ve now said the same thing past each other three times now, and you’ve even done the courtesy of trolling these comments on Totten’s blog, where I am no longer welcome to post any rebuttal.

How utterly classy of you.

AMac August 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

> your last [sic] warning.

No need to warn–this is your blog. I appreciate most of your posts, and agree with many of the insights you offer, surprising though you may find that.

As to Georgia not being an innocent victim, yes, I think that is clear.

As far as “trolling,” that is far from my intent. If you view my comments as such, feel free to delete them (not that you need my permission, obviously).

It was my impression that you had chosen not to comment further at Totten’s blog (reasonable under the circumstances for someone with their own well-respected blog), rather than that he was preventing you from doing so. I apologize for putting you in that awkward position.

Joshua Foust August 29, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Near as I can tell, Totten hasn’t banned me from anything. But he asked me to stay off his blog, and I respect that. I won’t comment there again — he made his preference for discussion clear.

As for the comments on Totten’s blog, I can’t do a thing about those. But think next time just what you’re trying to accomplish by leaving identical comments at multiple places like that — cutting and pasting like that is what trolling is. Especially when one of the subjects has been told he is unwelcome to respond. I have no problem engaging you in any discussion of the merits of the posts here — that’s what we’re all about, that conversation. I just get annoyed when a) we’ve reached the point at which we’re just talking past each other, about different things, on repeat, and b) you’re posting that stuff partially addressed to me in a forum where I cannot really respond (even if I ignored Totten’s demand not to comment again, it would still be rude to hijack his comment section like that).

AMac August 30, 2008 at 12:56 am

I’m surprised that you find my commentary trollish, as I try to (1) stay on topic, (2) discuss issues and avoid ad hominems, (3) post only when I have something new to add, and (4) conform to hosts’ policies and requests. I cross-posted to Totten’s blog because (1) your original comment was made in that forum, and (2) IMO, my remarks were relevant and on-topic there as well as here. I should add (3) I wasn’t giving your quoted words and Totten’s response (his thread at August 26, 2008 9:31 PM) as much weight as I should have. Yeah, given your, er, bluntness and Totten’s understandable indignation, you can’t really respond there as things stand. So for that, I again apologize.

I added a note in Totten’s comment thread (August 29, 2008 9:11 PM) so that his readers can find your arguments here.

This’ll likely be my last comment, as I’ve presented my dissent and the relevant links. Thanks for that opportunity.

P_K August 30, 2008 at 8:34 am

Hello,

I come here via comment at Totten report and I enjoy scrupulousness here.

My 2 cents:

There is a blog entry from person who visited Tshinval from Volgograd for Gergiev concert:

http://al-slim.livejournal.com/18871.html

I checked with roads at the map, Appendix C at report GEORGIA’S SOUTH OSSETIA CONFLICT:
MAKE HASTE SLOWLY
Europe Report N°183 – 7 June 2007

and it confirms this person came to Tshinval from North

“16.52 Written on the rock “Ossetia is thankful to Russia”.

17.00 Dzau. Russian staff military tents and autos at children soccer field.

17.07 Written all around : “RUSSIA THANK YOU” “THANK YOU RUSSIA”

17.23 Former Georgian village near Tshinval. There is no single whole house, Ossetians burn houses left, for Georgians nowhere to return ( Local told that Georgians left that village as early as 02. August, and after the fire had been conducted onto Tshinval from there very often )

17.33 Moved in in Tshinval”

P.S. These last sentences in the report from the area.

“Georgia have lost South Ossetia for ever, this is obvious. Hatred absolute.” [ of Ossetians towards Georgians ]

Ref http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/59/00.html

If you have any specific factual questions, I could try to find the answers via Russian internet. Regards.

Rusudan August 30, 2008 at 9:48 am

“Rusudan, if not for Russia, then then S. Ossetia would have been steam-rolled, a huge refugee crisis would have emerged, hundreds, if not thousands of more civilians would have been killed, and almost certainly Abkhazia would have suffered the same fate.

It takes two to fight a war, but one army can certainly commit atrocities on its own. ”

Dear Ryan,I think you are totally misinformed on this issue.I am Georgian and my best friend is Ossetian.Georgians and Ossetians lived in peace until Russia decided it wanted things in a different way.I don’t think that you have to be a Rocket Scientist to understand what is really going on in Georgia.RUSSIA WANTS TO ANNEX GEORGIA!!! Russia wants to carry out its imperialist mission. Do you genuinely think Russian government cares about Ossetians and Abhkazians? Then you must be really NAIVE.

Ryan Erickson August 30, 2008 at 10:30 am

rusiko, mapatiet. ar vicodi ro qartveli brdzandebit. saqartvelo dzalian mikvars, qartvelebi upro mikvars. sakartveloshi vcxovrobdi titqmis tskhra tve sharshan ivnisidan martis bolomde.

me piradad vici ro saakashvili gagizhda. gizhia da tavidan marto omi undoda imas. misham daicko omi.

saqartvelostvis vlotsulob.

P_K August 30, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Dear Rusudan,

I honestly do not think that Russia wants to annex Georgia.

As a Russian, I honestly tried myself to sort things out and my conclusion that Russia rightfully reacted to Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia.

Georgia in person of Saakashvili choose to use a force to reclaim SO instead of peaceful options which were available…

Besides, take a look at last UN SC meeting on the subject; Transcript is not available yet but will be in few days. Russian ambassador Churkin gives amazing and generally not known legal grounds for Abkhazia to be the sovereign state. He did not give details about SO due lack of time, but said it is analogous.

Best regards.

fnord August 31, 2008 at 2:01 am

P_K, Rusudan: I think you both have it kind of wrong: Russia surely wanted to get Abkhazia (primary) and S. Ossetia (secondary) under firm control. It is not interested in Georgia proper, though it wants to keep it under the heel. What I am wondering about still is what rationalizations the Georgian forces were able to dream up for their actions, with the results they surely must have known had to follow. S. Ossetia had for all praxis been a separate state for over 10 years, why did they choose now to attack it?

On topic, it seems obvious that the new reverse engineered version of history that the Georgians are trying to sell, that the russians invaded first, is a outright fabrication. Its interesting to see how the memetics work, Tottens piece seems to have been the trial baloon that OKd the general offensive that followed.

Ryan Erickson August 31, 2008 at 8:14 am

Maybe he’s just such a megalomaniac that he thought that his own (US-trained) army really could storm S. Ossetia quickly enough to block off the Roki tunnel–perhaps that’s why he chose the opening day of the Olympics when most people were distracted. And in case things went wrong, he was hoping that the West would come to his aid.

And if that went well, then Abkhazia would have followed.

Ryan Erickson August 31, 2008 at 8:16 am

Hopefully this will reverse any damage that Totten might have caused in trying to rewrite history:

http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/europe/news/article_1427854.php/Spiegel_OSCE_observers_fault_Georgians_in_conflict

Rusudan August 31, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Ryan,didi madloba sakartvelostvis rom lotsulobt 🙂 me erti rame minda – mshvidoba shin da garet,rogorts kartvelebi itkvian xolme.mshvidoba da samartlianoba mtel msoplioshi.

Rusudan August 31, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Ryan,ra kargad gistsavliat kartuli ase mokle droshi -you must have a talent for languages,good for you.But I suppose your knowledge of our culture and history is not that profound yet 🙂 according to your judgement of events in Georgia.Best regards.

archon August 31, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Odd that the media has so little interest in what would resulted here had Russia not intervened. Can you imagine the surviving Russian peacekeepers paraded before the cameras with their hands on their heads?

Looks like Major Malkhaz Dumbatze of the Georgian army wasn’t copied on the memo about the need to repel a Russian assault on the homeland. He and the 14 tanks under his command had “taken control” of Tskhivali and were “mopping up,” when they first learned of Russian involvement, by way of aerial bombardment. (“Georgia’s wounded troops tell of their surprise,” Timesonline, James Hilder, 8/30/08.)

AMac August 31, 2008 at 5:47 pm

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